Friday, April 27, 2007


So, back in Leicester again and things are quiet, way too quiet.

Work has been a pretty tedious - but last Friday I found it near impossible to concentrate, my eyes were really tired and my head was thumping despite the fact I'd been out the night before rather than reading or driving and I'd had a very generous lie-in. So I booked myself into an optician and the net result is all the tiredness and itchiness is because I'm short-sighted, something they diagnosed me with last time but said was not so bad that I needed glasses. Now I do however.

It's a bit weird - the glasses are clearly going to take a bit of getting used to. I'm supposed to wear them for most tasks, though I'm thinking my eyes are working too hard to focus on things at the moment - staring at my monitor is better than fine, but as soon as I stare at my keyboard it gets a little odd and unfocused for now.

Monday, April 23, 2007

New Star Trek Film

They've not quite released Star Trek Of Gods and Men, but the first 3 minutes has been leaked. Someone's going back in time to kill Kirk and cause a split in the timeline (sigh, timetravel again?)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Scotland and Back

Now I've been home and back. Not really much to report other than Inland Empire is a confusing film, Edinburgh is shiny and most of the people seem unchanged.

It was only three weeks ago Danny was telling me at lunch about the amazing ghost walk he and Becca had gone on in Edinburgh. His stories were so eerie I decided I'd like to go on the tour myself. I'd forgotten how fascinating a history Edinburgh and Lothian had, like Sawney Bean (coincidentally I've just watched the Hills Have Eyes for the first time last night and it's based off Sawney Bean's gruesome legend).

We combined our tour with a visit to the National Museum of Scotland and visited the Pixar exhibit (which really wasn't that great in my not-so-humble opinion). The ghost tour was fun and did nothing to dissuade me of the fact that on my triumphant return to Scotland with my millions, I -really- want to live in Edinburgh's old town. However those vaults are really unnerving - not helped by the fact moisture drips onto you from the ceiling. At least I wasn't as daft as Steve who actually entered the stone circle of cursedness that has caused bad stuff to happen to other tour members in the past. However being a humble fellow Stevie boy did it when the guide wasn't looking. We have had no visual confirmation of Steve's existence from this point on - I sure hope it isn't a ghost texting me.

Probably the most scary bit was when some big daftie lept out of the shadows in the outside corridor while we were plunged into darkness inside the vault. Everyone else saw this and screamed some curse. I on the other hand was wondering if Steve was about to play some prank on me in the pitch black and was staring in his general direction rather than the door. Speed of light being faster than speed of sound I was the last person to let out a yelp, which was vaguely amusing.

Other than that and discovering the Green Wing it was a good if uneventful trip home. I'm back at work now, with a harsh regimen of marking broken only by pub lunches, ice-cream and discovering how many uses you can have for traffic cones in the PhD student office.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Doctor Who Witterings 2

I listened to the entire season of Doctor Who that were on BBC 7. Highly recommended. Paul McGann as you may know is my favourite Doctor and Sheridan Smith from Two Pints of Lager is his assistant, and suspiciously similar to her Two Pints character.

It was a long journey from Dundee to Leicester, so here is my thoughts on all of them (except the Dalek 2 parter which I probably wittered on about anyway). If you only listen to 1, make it Immortal Beloved.

Horror of Glam Rock - Not as funny as the clever as the title suggested, this still got a chuckle off me. The Glam Rock version of the Doctor Who theme is on my want list however.

Immortal Beloved - Clever story featuring a group of humans posing as members of the Greek pantheon and effectively living forever via cloning and memory transfer. Sufficiently angsty.

Phobos - Very nice episode about a fear elemental feeding off the extreme sports fanatics using the moon Phobos as a holiday retreat.

No More Lies - Didn't really get this one. I think it tried to be too clever by jumping in mid-story for the Doctor and Lucy. I think if I'd paid more attention to it than the road I would've appreciate it more. However if I'd done that I might not be here to blog this.

Human Resources - Excellent idea and everything the TV show's relatively disappointing finales should be. The Office meets Transformers meets Star Wars. This two parter sees the Doctor trying to rescue his companion only to destroy a warmachine masquerading as a corporate office only to discover it was in fact hired to keep the cybermen in check.

I also listened to Scaredy Cat (very short, not bad, but not fantastic) and Other Lives (steampunk and very, very good if a little contrived). These feature McGann and his companions are jolly-posh Charley Pollard and dull-as-dishwater "whoo I can change colour, oh I'm on radio" C'Rizz, who has not gotten any more likable and is in fact a psychopath. This might get interesting but from the reviews I've read C'Rizz is relatively undeveloped after this point. However the next two audios to come out with McGann are:-

101 Absolution
· October 2007
· 8th Doctor,
Charley, C'rizz

103 The Girl Who Never Was
· December 2007
· 8th Doctor,

There is no C'Rizz in 103, and the Girl Who Never Was may be a reference to the paradox arc that Charley had in the halcyon days of McGann's Seasons 1 and 2. Charley was supposed to die in the R101 aircrash, but the Doctor saved her.

Seems to me they're "resolving" McGann's old companions in favour of Sheridan Smith. I just hope C'Rizz dies in some heroic and interesting way.

Doctor Who Witterings 1

Gridlock eh?

That was actually pretty darn good for a RTD episode. Admittedly it contained several things about his stories I don't like - like the gay grannies and a disturbing way of producing kittens. I still maintain the year 5 billion is way too far in the future for humanity to look 21st century, though if New Earth was some sort of museum throwback that could explain. It still think by 5 billion humans would be like the Vorlons in Babylon 5.

Also didn't exactly buy it that people would wait years in a traffic queue. People aren't exactly patient these days in traffic.

On the other hand it the Doctor talking about Gallifrey was cool, the SFX were awesome and it was actually quite a nice idea if a little wonky. If it were set on another planet than New Earth in a different time period where people had evolved to a state of waiting for traffic it would've been awesome.

The Face of Boe has finally revealed his secret, although if the Doctor had got a hold of the Doctor Who 2006 annual he'd have already known what Boe was going to say. I hope this means either the Master is back this season, or some Timelord tech is being used by/on Mister Saxon. Preferrably the Master though. Overall Season 3 is much better than Season 2 - but I believe Boe's arc was supposed to kick off in Season 2 but was dereailed by the imminent departure of one Miss Piper.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

New Job: Change, and not a moment too soon.

My time at the University of Leicester is drawing to a close now. Strangely I'm going to miss working there, or rather I'm going to miss a lot of my friends that I've worked with. Not that I'm leaving Leicester, just that I'm not going to be about the campus much.

It's a Research Fellow job, which is nice as I can say I'm a Fellow of DMU, rather than a demonstrator. Too many people think that I wander round with placards for a living. Also it means I'll hopefully get more time to myself without mad swathes of people queuing at my door because they broke their web server/C++ program, and the old "Can I bother you on your lunchbreak, because it's not like the other 100 or so students also feel like they can bother you at this exact time daily." I'm also pretty certain B. doesn't also work at DMU, which is a major plus.

Career wise, all going well, it also means in 2 years time I'll have a pretty major post-doc under my belt and be looking at the coveted lecturer post, the harem, the rock and roll lifestyle, the room full of cash I can swim in with my Scrooge McDuck accent and the fleet of fast cars in the basement. Or one of the above.

But you don't want to know all that! You want to know the story of how I got the job. I was going to blog it in January but I wasn't 100% til the contract landed on my door on career moves are the few things I don't blog in case someone interviewing me googles me.

After being invited to interview I knew B. would be in a foul mood the day before the interview, as his ability to wind me up works on some weird intuitive level. True to form that Thursday B. had a pretty good go at me, and to be honest it was probably the most abusive he'd ever been. He started aggrendizing his own role in the office and calling myself, A. and even G. lazy twats. He swore and yelled, amusingly audible to the students outside who came to me with questions and rather worried looks on their faces. In all fairness I got a few jabs in myself, but without yelling or swearing. By the time he finally shut his proverbial geggy I was resolved to escape the shackles of my current job. I should really thank him - if it weren't for him I'd probably end up a 50 year old demonstrator.

Thanks to his diatribe and latest tantrum I instantly made the decision that instead of going fencing that evening and ending up in the pub afterwards I would go home and have a pretty through read of my notes on the department, do some last minute nip/tuck to my presentation and do some studying.

I was pretty emotionally exhausted when I got home (being verbally abused does that to you) but I was elated when I got an email telling me my 1st journal paper was being accepted - useful when you're applying for a research job. Clearly the stars were aligned correctly for this latest adventure?

I went for the interview on literally the last day of the Christmas term. In addition to a nasty C++ quiz they sprung on me without warning (which I would go on to spend all Xmas silently obsessing about and picking holes in my probably misremembered answers) I had to give a presentation on my research interests. I'd managed to retrofit a PhD presentation to be 10 minutes and include a rather nifty animation that might have been useful if I'd thought of it 5 years ago.

Anyroads, fast forward to the 3rd of January, Dundee and I received a phonecall telling me I hadn't got the job, but that I'd impressed them so much they wanted to 'unofficially' offer me another identical job they had in the offing. I was pretty happy to say the least, as the thought of telling B. to shove his head wherever the sun don't shine in his anatomy.

However after the elation I waited and waited, returned from Xmas hols and went back to work. No sooner had I got back to work than my boss called me into his office and asked me why DMU had interviewed me in December and were currently asking him for a reference in mid-January. He had put 2 and 2 together and got 4 - I was going to jump ship shortly. At this time all I could tell him was more news would be imminent.

Anyroads what emerged from this was a circle of sheer frustration - January became February. February became March. My friends were wondering why I hadn't jumped ship. Some were too polite to ask, while others were a little curious. My bosses were ever so slightly keen to know if/when I was leaving as they asked me about my new job every week or so. My contact at DMU kept telling me everything would fall into place soon. I really wished they'd not bothered with the references until they were ready - I was going to keep the new job under my hat until it was official. By the end of January I think the only person who didn't know at work was B.

Then finally at the end of March I got confirmation - things were moving forwards. Of course while they were happy for me to spend 3 months wondering they aren't too happy if I am kept to my full notice period so I've had to negotiate leaving at the end of the May. Which is not long when you factor in holidays etc.

DMU's Computer Science department is in the really spiffy engineering building. Which is nice as its a modern tower, not a 1970s concrete monstrosity like the Chilly Will building - where the lifts and electric doors fail to work on a windy day, the labs are not waterproof and yet money is spent on refurnishing the 6 or so restaurants on a regular basis. The DMU office block I saw around looks really modern, and it's open plan so no more arguing over having the door open.

I'm a little worried - it's only a 2 year contract, meaning once that's over I'll possibly be needing another new job. 2 years isn't as long as it used to be. On the other hand I didn't have any intention of staying in Leicester for 2 more years in my current job, but on the other hand I'd be sad to leave.

This is probably as big as it gets for a while. As most of you know this blog was set up in 2005 when I moved from Dundee to Leicester to stay in touch with you. Now I'm moving from Leicester to uh... Leicester, but in some ways it feels like a bigger move.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Tolkien's Newest Novel?

I really must fire my intelligence gatherers, because there's a new flipping book by Tolkein coming out called Children of Hurin. Assuming it's not another Silmarillion it'll be bubbling up my list of things to read. Expect a review by 2010.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

I've Got Good News

That TV show I like is going to finally come out on DVD!

Yes, they have released Season 2 of Twin Peaks on DVD in the States finally. They only realised Series 1 five years ago!

Oh, and here's a page of all David Lynch's commercials including the Georgia coffee ads - the man's a true artist who would never
sell out... ah dammit.

Wil Wheaton vs. Wil Shatner

Ever since I started reading I've wanted to know the William F. Shatner story, and his book isn't exactly stocked over here in the UK. Thanks to the web here is part one and part two of the ego-master in action.

Dr. Stu on Dr. Who 3

I watched the first episode after returning from Edinburgh and was extremely tired but it didn't seem too bad. Martha at least has some useful skills - being a nearly-qualified doctor means she should be quite an asset to the Doctor, who tends not to be big on repairing the damage he inadvertantly creates. The whole hospital thing was alright - though Martha was perhaps a little too cool with it while everyone else went to pieces. Perhaps she suffers slightly from being a little blazé about danger (this is RTD's way of putting a "Companion Badge" on her perhaps?), but not to the ridiculous extent of Rose in series 2. However she's only been around for about 2 episodes, so I worry about her later wise-cracking. I will rewatch it on my Sky box next week while I'm recording it onto disc.

Also one thing I am most assuredly not waiting for is the Jones family soap opera. Daddy Jones is shacked up with a dolly-bird blondie, who I am sure will inevitably prove to be the most annoying character in the show next to Rose. I imagine she will get quite tiresome and will inevitably end up captured/possessed/whatever.

The second episode, the Shakespeare Code, was very, very good. A lot of work went into getting the period just right, though this seemed a bit wasted since our main characters as usual made no effort to blend in and dress/act appropriately and I felt they give old Tremblestaff too much of the old common touch. At least the humour wasn't as jarringly forced as Tooth and Claw, last year's historical episode. Then again this wasn't an RTD episode.

I liked the villians. Nearly as cool as the Ood. I hope the Carrionates come back at some point - the main witch villainess was disturbingly hot. I worry about me sometimes. Well someone has to. Sadly they probably won't come back - they're not an RTD creation. To wit, next week - we return to New Earth. Because like all RTD's "innovations" it was so good it simply had to be revisited (cue rants about the year 5 billion looking a little too much like 2007). On the other hand if this kickstarts the whole Last of the Timelords plotline it might be worth watching.

Rose seems to be getting namechecked a little too much for me. She wasn't that great. Get over it, Doc.

Otherwise, much better season so far.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Monday, April 02, 2007

Roleplaying Nationals 2007

Yes - it's that time of year again, the Student Nationals (though these days you'll be hard pushed to find a student there), this time in Edinburgh to prevent it from constantly going back and forth from Bradford and Sheffield. See how well that works out in a moment or two...

The journey up was pretty okay except for a major jam outside York - but eventually I was over the border to Jedburgh - which looked cool, epic and misty. About 2 hours later I was working with no directions to get myself booked in and registered, but by 8pm I was all set, and the Pollock Halls in Edinburgh are very, very spiffy. After much reunioning (is that a verb? It is now) I went to sleep, utterly shattered.

A really nice breakfast started off the day well, and I found my game where I was reunited with J... for the 3rd time in 4 years. The first game was run using the Hero system - a system so complicated the rulebook could foil presidential assassination attempts if worn under plain clothes and made Rolemaster seem like a simplistic and common sense rules system.

The premise of this game was that there was a great darkness rising in the north. A band of heroes were to be assembleed to kill it. We were all Greek heroes from myths and legend. Actually it's fairer to say the rest of the party were Greek heroes and I was playing a pathetic Greek tragedy. We went north, found a dark chimera, killed it and stopped the titans making more monsters.

The party consisted of Perseus, an immortal wrestler made of stone who takes his power from Mother Earth, the god Hermes in mortal form for a laugh and Aesipicles - an actor and healer so great he could raise the dead with sheer force of will and persuade titans to commit suicide by eating copious amounts of hemlock.

Then there was me, playing Daedalus of the Daedalus and Icarus double act. I was apparently a genius, having invented flying wings (not so good for Icarus as I'm sure you'll recall) and built the labyrinth for King Minas (something which apparently labelled me as a traitor to the rest of Greece, but hey-ho). Essentially from reading and rereading my superpowers they were:-

  1. Dig 4 inches per second through solid wall. And organise up to 8 people to dig at the same rate.

  2. Raise or lower the ambient temperature of the camp site by 4 degrees. This would turn out to be my greatest offensive power later on in the scenario.

  3. Fly if I had a long runway or cliff. My DM seriously said he thought he had actually removed this power from the sheet, given how overwhelmingly overpowered I clearly was with the other 2 powers.

I also had the Hammer of Haephestus, which given Haeph is the god-armourer I assumed would stack with my inventor abilities to let me build ridiculously fast cool invention things. Sadly it only served to boost my minor combaty abilities.

It's fair to say I was more than a little underwhelmed by the patheticness of my character, particularly as the rest of the party were capable of summoning Zeus, throwing lightning bolts from the sky, creating sacrificial white cows out of the ether and other silliness. I didn't understand the system but an additional couple of facts were slowly explained to me during the game by the DM:-

  1. As I had the lowest Dex score I always went last in combat, that is if there was still a combat after all the god-like heroes launched their powers etc. The DM frequently forgot to remember my character in initiative order so the low Dex was less of an issue at times.

  2. My character, with his amazing strength and god-forged hammer could not actually wound the 1 big creature in the game. We found this out when I spent £2 on rerolls to get 35 on 7 dice and still failed to do anything beyond minor bruising. I renamed the Hammer of Haephaestus "the rubber mallet of the gods" from that point on.

I could however console myself that with my god-given digging powers I would at least be able to dig a hasty grave for anyone who messed with the rest of the party and that nearly everyone in the party was strong enough to throw my character into the air, eliminating the need for a runway.

My most useful moment in the game pretty much went as follows:-

DM: "There are 3 monsters sneaking up on you. Roll to see if you spot them."
SK: "Me? Why, can't they find someone worthwhile to attack? Okay I'll roll." (rolls and fails, pretty much a constant throughout this game)
DM: "The camp suddenly seems to feel colder. What are you doing?"
SK (reading character sheet): "Hey, it says here I can raise the temperature around me by four degrees purely by will. Since I think the night is just getting cooler I walk up to the fire, mutter something and the fire leaps back to life, causing the temperature to go back to something comfortable."
DM: "Er..." (flips through his notes) "The monsters sneaking up on you are some sort of cooled misty air monsters so the temperature change actually damages them." (rolls some dice) "They all die, turning into steam and evaporating."
SK: "But I didn't see this so I probably hear the hissing of steam, turn round and shrug."
DM: "Right. But then 3 more identical monsters turn up and attack - it was the temperature changing that harmed them, not the actual temperature. And as you are completely unaware of killing the first 3 you will not know to change the temperature again. They attack. And go first."
SK: "I hate you and everything you stand for."

(actually I didn't say the last bit, but I was tempted to. It was a pretty funny incident in an utterly pathetic way)

It's pretty accurate to say Game 1 was not my cup of tea. Or even my ideal stool sample. It did however mean I no longer had to worry about ranking in my category, allowing me free to enjoy Sunday's game all the more. But more on that later.

The evening continued with a pretty cool geek pub quiz. I was disowned by DMU Games Soc for playing with DURPS (they only had 3 players at one point) as up until the last utterly random round we were in the lead despite the fact there was a wargames round and our only wargamer left to have dinner. It was a pretty impressive showing though given it was a 6 round pub quiz with 2 additional sheets of questions and we eventually ranked 3rd. Suffice it to say all those Mondays in the Marquis have paid off, as has my knowledge of Dragonlance and Bill Murray's career.

Add to that some drunken mirth until the wee hours of the morning, where I went to bed leaving Six Foot Hobbit more or less sober with Big Bad John from Vague only to find him looking so utterly forlorn and hungover that he thought my cheery cries of "Morning" were some sort of cutting insult.

Sunday's game was Pendragon and the guy running it knew his stuff. The scenario was slightly familiar though - there was a great darkness rising in the north. A band of heroes were to be assembleed to kill it. We were all young knights sent by King Arthur to investigate. I was actually a competent knight with no skill in digging. We went north, found a dark wyrm and killed it.

Way better than the first game despite the suspiciously similar plot. The interplay was better and my character was actually useful for more than carrying the torches. We even had a player versus player joust over the small matter of one of the knights killing peasants after I'd negotiated a truce with the peasants. Add to that an entourage of a possibly gay/disguised female squire, another that was a hypochondriac, a French knight with an outrageous accent, a sneaky git killing after the whistle was clearly blown and a holy relic that I'm convinced came out of Blackadder's "Sacred Appendage Compendium Party Pack" it was a very good game.

And so, after more socialising and Sheffield literally stealing first place in the beginning minutes of prize giving it was a good nationals. And next year it will be in Sheffield... again. Very convenient for me!

Overall good nationals. The only question is who do I play for next year - Dundee or DeMontfort Uni? Well DMU have a free minibus apparently. ;)